There has been a lot of buzz around airport lounges lately with the opening of new premium offerings like the Delta Sky Club at Los Angeles International Airport and the United Club at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Frequent flyers love to tout the benefits of spending time in a lounge before takeoff or during a layover — and they’ve got plenty of tips for getting to these premium spaces for less.
But for the average traveler, is paying to enter the airport lounge worth it? Below, experts break down the questions you should ask yourself to figure that out.
What are your needs ?
“As with most things in travel, airport lounges are a personal decision that comes down to traveler preferences and priorities,” said Casey Brogan, consumer travel expert at Tripadvisor, told HuffPost. “Many who enjoy the VIP experience think it’s worth it, but others prefer to spend their money dining at a nice restaurant.”
When you’re completely exhausted from a long trip, the hustle and bustle of the airport is often the last thing you want to deal with. So if you’re looking for a cozier, less cluttered place to relax and eat during a long layover or delay, then the living room might be just what you need.
“Airport lounges can also be worthwhile for business travelers coming out with red eyes or heading to a meeting so they can shower, freshen up and change,” Brogan added.
If you’re only at the airport for a short layover and have no interest in eating or drinking alcohol, there’s probably little point in paying for lounge access. Some travelers might also be more inclined to visit the lounge during just one leg of their trip.
“If you have to choose, I think lounges are more beneficial going home than going,” said Ravi Rothhost of "The Gaycation Travel Fair.” "At the end of a trip, most people are exhausted and ready for a nap."
How crowded is the living room?
"While lounges have always been a safe haven in the airport, that’s not necessarily the case right now," said Zach Griff, senior reporter at The dot guy. "Many salons are suffering from overcrowding due to increasing travel demand."
During busy periods, it may be a good idea to avoid the lounge and seek space at open doors or less busy terminals.
“With so many travelers taking to the skies, especially those with premium credit cards that include lounge access, there are more people using the lounge than ever before,” Griff said.
He added that American Express has live capacity indicators for its Centurion Lounges, so you can check how crowded those spaces are. Delta would roll out similar functionality, out of LAX and LaGuardia Airport.
How nice is it?
“Not all airport lounges are the same,” Casey Brogan said. “Some have more amenities, such as full showers, better seating, more (and better quality) food.”
Griff thinks Delta’s new Sky Clubs in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and New York "set the bar high" for airport lounge opportunities.
"They have multiple buffets, sleek bars, ample seating, and bespoke amenities, such as marble shower rooms and spacious outdoor terraces," he said.
But not all living rooms are like that. Because amenities and overall quality can vary widely, Griff advises doing your research and reading lounge reviews the next time you pass through an airport to see if they’re worth checking out.
"Ask the host for details and take a look before you book," added Stephanie Be, travel blogger and founder of the travel website. Buena. "Some lounges have cabanas or areas where you can lie flat, while others don’t. Some offer showers for the international traveler with a longer layover, while others don’t. Food and drink options also vary.
How much will access cost you?
If airport lounge access is already included on your credit card (or your travel companion’s card and they can bring guests), then by all means take advantage of it. But if you’re considering paying to enter the salon, do a personal cost-benefit analysis.
“It all comes down to value,” said Phil Dengler, co-founder of The vacationer. “Will you have more money in your pocket by avoiding lounges altogether, or buying a lounge membership or signing up for a credit card with an annual fee that provides free lounge access?”
Consider how much you would pay for the food versus the price to enter the lounge and enjoy the free food and drink. Think about how much time you will spend there and whether you will be able to take full advantage of the amenities. How often do you fly? And what does your budget look like in general?
"Airport lounges can…give you a few free snacks and drinks, but if you don’t travel often, the cost of buying snacks and drinks will ultimately be cheaper than paying for a membership if you don’t." don’t use often," said the budgeting expert Andrea Woroch.
"Also, many major airports offer free Wi-Fi these days, so that benefit isn’t as exclusive anymore," she added. “If you’re stuck on a long layover and want to escape the crowds, just head to a different gate that doesn’t take off soon and you’ll probably be able to find a quiet spot to relax.”